Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
updated 4/29/2011 12:39:32 AM ET 2011-04-29T04:39:32

One person is dead and at least 10 have been hospitalized in an outbreak of salmonella poisonings linked to clinical and teaching microbiology laboratories across the nation, government health officials reported.

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Some 73 people in 35 states have been sickened by the bacteria since August,  including some by a strain of Salmonella Typhimurium sold commercially for use in laboratory settings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The ill include students and employees of the laboratories, as well as children who live in households of people who study or work at the labs. CDC officials warned that bacteria used in the labs can be transmitted through contaminated lab coats, pens, notebooks, car keys and other items brought into the labs.

Salmonella infection was implicated in the death of a 91-year-old Boston man residing in a chronic care center who had multiple underlying illnesses, according to Christian Nielsen, a spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission. There was no connection between the man and any microbiology lab, however.

Illnesses likely began last Aug. 20, with most recent illnesses reported March 8, the CDC report said. Ill patients ranged in age from less than 1 to 91, with a median age of 24. Cases that developed after March 19 may not yet be included in the total because of the lag time in assessing and reporting illness.

A study of 32 cases found that 60 percent of ill patients were exposed to microbiology labs in the week before their illness began, compared with 2 percent of people in a control group. About 40 percent of those infected with the outbreak strain appeared to have no laboratory connection.

Salmonella infections typically result in diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. They can be dangerous in very young children or people with compromised immune systems.

Illnesses have been tied to laboratories from Alaska to New York, with most reporting one or two cases. Six case have been reported in Pennsylvania, five cases have been reported in Washington state and four in Minnesota.

The CDC is working with local and state health departments, the American Society for Microbiology and the Association of Public Health Laboratories to track the outbreak.

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